In 1961, at age 14, British singing sensation Helen Shapiro had two number one hits and a number three hit on the British pop charts. The next year, she recorded more hits, made two teen movies, did a world tour and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. That was followed by a tour of the United Kingdom in February and March 1963 called The Helen Shapiro Show. You may have heard of the band that opened for her on that tour—the Beatles! One of her teen hits was “Walking Back to Happiness.” Here is Helen’s own account of her spiritual journey on the way to finding true happiness.
I was raised in a warm, musical, traditional Jewish family in the heart of a large Jewish community in the East End of London. Our extended family, although not a very Orthodox group, was nevertheless totally Jewish in identity and heritage. My first recollections include wonderful festivals such as Passover, plus traditional rituals such as the lighting of candles on Friday evenings to welcome Shabbat.
I suppose I believed in God from my earliest days. I took His existence for granted. Because my school had a Jewish headmaster and many Jewish students, we Jewish kids had separate religious education classes and assemblies. As a consequence, I never heard of a New Testament or a Jesus until I was around six years of age. One day, a non-Jewish girl came up to me in the playground and blurted out, “You killed Jesus Christ!” I was devastated and confused by this accusation. I had never killed anyone in my life, and who was this person with the strange name, Jesus Christ?
At fourteen, while still at school, I had my first hit record. That led me into show business, travelling the world, singing at many famous venues and having hit songs. I was carried along by all the fame, meeting celebrities and royalty, and didn’t give much thought to spiritual things until the late sixties. At that time, it seemed that everyone was searching for the “meaning of life.” It was the hippie era. Thankfully, I did not become involved with drugs or cults. However, members of my family had taken to visiting mediums and clairvoyants to make contact (as they thought) with relatives who had died. This fascinated me. I began to visit such people myself, on occasion. I also started to read books and magazines about spiritism, Buddhism and all kinds of psychic phenomena. I developed a system of beliefs, which, these days, would be called New Age.
For quite a number of years, these beliefs filled a void in my life—until I turned 40. I woke up one morning and, to my own great surprise, I found I no longer believed in any of my New Age ideas. This presented a dilemma for me, as I had always equated all my beliefs with God. Did this mean that there was no God? For the first time in my life, I had nothing to believe in. My jazz and pop career was going well. I was in a relationship with the man who is now my husband. I was successful, but inside I was empty.
In those days, my musical director was a man named Bob Cranham. He was a Christian and more than once he had spoken of what his “Lord” had done in his life. But I couldn’t consider this for myself because I am Jewish. I called in at his house one day, to pick up some music. Now, neither Bob nor his wife knew anything of my inner struggle. Nobody did.
Bob dropped a bombshell that day. He said, “I’m thinking of giving up the music business because I believe God wants me to be a preacher.” Here was a professional, sane and sensible top-quality musician, composer, songwriter, producer—and he’s talking about giving up everything. He seemed so calm and sure and so willing to take this drastic step, if, as he believed, God wanted it. I found myself becoming more and more impressed by how real and sincere his faith must be if he could surrender all that for his “Lord.” I went home and told my boyfriend, John, how much I envied Bob. I had many opinions, but Bob had real convictions. I wanted what he had!
I started to think about this Jesus constantly. Finally, I lay awake one night and felt that I had nothing to lose. I whispered, “Jesus…?” I didn’t know if I was going to be struck by lightning. “Are you really there? Are you really the Messiah? If you are, I want to know. Please show me.” Nothing seemed to happen in my room that night, but in the weeks that followed, it seemed that everywhere I went, I was bumping into things and people connected with this Jesus.
One day, Bob handed me a book. I was surprised to see that the cover was a picture of a menorah. The title was Betrayed, by Stan Telchin. The subtitle, in effect, said “How would you feel as a successful 50-year-old, Jewish businessman if your daughter one day told you she believed in Jesus?” How did Bob know I was searching? I thought to myself. Of course, he didn’t know. Nobody knew.
The book was a total shock. I had heard about the odd Jewish person believing in Jesus, but I had dismissed them all as weirdoes and cranks. Here was a book by a normal, successful Jewish businessman who believed in Jesus, and I couldn’t ignore it. Outwardly, I showed no emotion. But my heart was thumping inside. I couldn’t wait to read it.
It took me only a couple of hours to finish it. Stan Telchin was a pillar of the Jewish community in Washington, DC, successful in insurance, and a member of different Jewish organizations and committees. One day his daughter announced that she had accepted Jesus as her Messiah. After his initial shock and anger wore off, he set out to prove her wrong. He spent months talking to rabbis, pastors, Jewish believers in Jesus, gentile believers, reading the Old and New Testaments, church history, Jewish history, you name it! After all that, he ended up becoming a believer in Jesus.
Most fascinating of all were the Messianic prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures that Stan listed. Isaiah 9:6 says, “to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” I had always thought that verse was in the New Testament as I’d only ever seen it on Christmas cards. But there it was in Isaiah! This verse goes on to say that this child would be called “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Mighty God! Is the prophet saying that the Messiah has to be God, somehow?
Isaiah 7:14 states that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. I had always thought that talk of a virgin birth was most un-Jewish, but there it was in Isaiah, the Jewish prophet. Micah 5:2 speaks of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem.
Finally, I came to Isaiah 53: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6). It seemed to be speaking about Jesus!
I had to find out if these things were really in the Bible. I went out and bought one, took it home, opened up to the Hebrew Scriptures, and there they were: prophecies about the Messiah! They all pointed, it seemed to me, to Jesus. Could it really be true? With trepidation, I opened, for the first time in my life, that forbidden book: The New Testament.
Would it be full of anti-Semitic poison? After all, look at what has been done against the Jews over the centuries in the name of Christ, by those claiming to be Christians. We figure they must get it from “their book.”
Imagine my surprise when I opened it and was greeted by the most Jewish thing I had seen outside of the Hebrew Scriptures: the genealogy of Jesus. While reading Stan’s book, I had learned that the Messiah had to be descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, from the tribe of Judah and of the royal house of David. All these names were there, and many, many more, in this impeccable lineage of Jesus.
I discovered that the writers of the New Testament were Jewish. Greatly comforted, I began reading about these people, living in the Land of Israel, according to the Law of Moses. There was a Temple and a priesthood—it was a continuation of the Old Testament. And then, there was Jesus. He seemed to rise up out of the pages to me. I was drawn to him: his words, his compassion, his miracles, his arrest and trial, his crucifixion and resurrection. Then the thought struck me that I was being too gullible. This Bible, including the Hebrew Scriptures, was, after all, translated by Christians. Maybe they had slanted it towards their way of thinking. I had to get a “proper” Bible—a Jewish Bible.
So I bought one. I got it home and compared it with the Old Testament in my other Bible, and it was the same. I continued reading the New Testament. By the time I had read all four Gospels, I knew that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies. But what do I do? This was controversial!
I telephoned Bob and said, “I think I’m on the verge of becoming a believer.” He and his wife asked me over. I had so many questions. One of my main questions was to do with all my old smorgasbord of beliefs: where does God fit in with them? The answer is: He doesn’t. Bob showed me from Deuteronomy and other Scriptures that all those things are an abomination to God and come under the heading of occult. I learned that I had to repent of and renounce all those practices.
I told Bob and his wife that I believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. I believed that he died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead on the third day. They explained that I needed to repent—to turn from my sin back to God. I learned that I was a sinner. We all are. Bob asked me if I would like to respond by praying and asking God to forgive me on the basis of what Jesus has done.
This I joyfully did on August 26, 1987, at 10:30 pm. Even though there were no thunderbolts or flashes of lightning, I knew that my prayer was answered. I can’t explain how I knew—I just did. It was all so real and true.
During my search, I had begun to wonder: if I accepted the claims of Jesus and became his follower, would I still be Jewish? I had written to Stan Telchin along these lines. He assured me that I would be fulfilling my Jewishness by believing in Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, and that I would be coming back to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
We all, Jew and gentile, have broken God’s laws. Only by faith in the perfect sacrifice of Messiah Jesus can we be made right with God. I urge you to search the Scriptures and find out for yourself.